Some of the dirtiest words — for gardeners, that is — have nothing to do with fowl language, but rather the pests and diseases that threaten their crops.

This week, we’re featuring two common, dirty, dreadful diseases that have the potential to kill plants if they are not identified and treated. Root rot and blight€” a fungi and a disease — generally appear when there’s over watering and also have limited treatment options. That is why it is crucial to maintain healthy, well-drained plants in as sterile an environment as possible.

Let’s look at these two diseases:

Root Rot: Typically caused by prolonged over watering, oxygen deprivation or by fungus-infected soil, root rot symptoms include yellowing of roots and the possibility of wilting leaves. The fungi blocks the roots’ oxygen intake, eventually leading to the decay of the root; in essence, you can lose the entire plant if the problem isn’t caught and treated early on.

  • Diagnose: The best way to diagnose root rot is to inspect the roots. Infected roots can appear light brown to dark brown and turn even black, feel mushy and slimy and maybe even fall off at the touch. In the worst-case scenario, the plant’s base can become infected and turn dark.
  • Root Rot Treatment: Quickly treating an infected plant is your best defense, and even then, the plant’s chances of full recovery are slim. Sprays will generlly not be a root rot cure for this devastating ailment, and cultural controls — such as preventative root-eating insects, fungi and bacteria, maintaining a proper pH, using a clean growing medium and maintaining adequate calcium levels — are really the only good defense.

Upon detection, immediately remove the plant from the soil or growing medium and wash the roots under running water, washing away as much soil and affected roots as possible. Be careful while doing this: your poor plant roots are already in a fragile state.

Then, get a sharp, sterile pair of scissors or trimming shears and cut off any rotting roots. If the disease is significant enough, you may have to remove a large portion of the root system.

Also, get rid of the soil or growing medium that the plant was in and thoroughly wash the container with a bleach-water solution to rid it of any lingering fungus. And, as a precaution, dip the healthy roots in a fungicide solution to kill any remaining root rot. Replant using new potting mix in a clean container with good drainage and only water when the soil is dry to encourage plant root growth.

Blight: This is a general term that describes a variety of diseases caused by fungus, usually showing up a few weeks before harvest. Symptoms of blight include: leaves that suddenly yellow and wilt, or have dark, blotchy spots, which can all lead to death. It spreads quickly and is hard to control when in the advanced stages. Sometimes, the only way to rid your plants of the problem is to rid yourself of the plants.

  • Prevention: Prevention, as with all pests, diseases and fungal infections, is the key to combating blight. Maintain a well-drained growing medium and avoid excessively fertilizing with nitrogen.

Countering root rot and blight – whether it be hydroponic root rot in an EZ-CLONE system or out back in a raised bed garden€“ will keep those long-term problems to a minimum and get you those bright white roots that we all love to see.

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